Islam: Relevance of Islam in our time

Q299 :Would you please explain the relevance of Islam in our time? Or may I phrase my question differently and ask whether Muslims would have been worse off had they not been practicing Muslims? May I also ask why Allah had deemed it fit to declare that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last messenger.

A299 : To ask whether Islam is relevant to human life in our modern time is to ask whether man needs divine guidance or not. If we relate this question to a specific period in time, when we suppose that divine guidance might have been suitable or needed at a particular stage but, with human development and advancement, man may come to a stage when he is no longer in need of such guidance. To prove this, we need to examine various human situations and see how human society fares if it follows divine guidance and what may happen to it if it considers such guidance irrelevant. Fortunately, examples abound. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, Europe and American societies have moved away from religion and decided that religion had no place in shaping human life. In the West, the capitalist system emphasized the freedom of the individual and considered faith and worship personal matters which might remain isolated from the political and economic fields. The sphere of influence of religion was further reduced, so as to banish it altogether from the social order. What results do we see there? In the West, where democracy has ensured a genuine chance for people to replace their government, we see a frequently changing cycle, with the electorate deciding to change directions every few years. Thus, a right-wing government is replaced by a left-wing one, which is replaced a few years later by another right-wing government. An economic problem of rising inflation is succeeded by a more acute problem of rising unemployment. Money supply is tightened or relaxed as fits the outlook of the government in power which is bound to rely on support from either the business community or trade unions. It may be argued that there is enough flexibility in the system to tolerate such changes and allow the people to choose the direction in which they wish to go. While this is true and the flexibility is commendable in principle, the frequency of change and the rapid cycle of rising unemployment following close on the heels of sharp inflation causes a great deal of suffering. It is often the case that the government of the day wants to appease its own constituency, be it big business or powerful trade unions. Therefore, the measures it takes and the legislation it enacts seldom take the interest of the whole community into consideration. Rarely a piece of legislation is calculated to serve the community as a whole. The people face a dilemma which they try to solve by voting an unpopular government out of power and replacing it with a government which soon loses popularity. In Britain, for example, it is always expected that any by-election which takes place in the second or third year of the life of a parliament would go against the government in power. This phenomenon is known as "protest vote" against the government. As the time for general elections approaches, the government in power starts to take popular measures in order to try to win the next elections. There is no doubt that the most important achievement of Western civilization is the importance it attaches to the freedom of the individual. Over the years, this has brought up the best in people. Freedom is certainly necessary for man to allow his talents and skills to have full play and to yield their best fruit. One cannot but admire the principle of freedom which is valued so highly in the West. However, Western societies have erred in giving little to discipline which should run side by side with personal freedom. Thus, moral values have been allowed to lose their grip on people's conduct and the concept of unrestrained social behavior was given full sway. One of the results of such philosophy was the permissiveness which was given in the sixties of this century the title of the "sexual revolution". A by-product of this permissiveness was the spread of wanton, permissive and perverted sexual behavior which has increased the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, the most recent of which is AIDS. In the Eastern bloc, communism has ruled for over 70 years in the Soviet Union and for nearly half a century in other East European countries. In these countries, people lived under ruthless dictatorships with little or no hope of ever enjoying the type of personal freedom every human being yearns for. When we compare the capitalist system of the West with the communism of the East, from the point of view of the material well-being of society, we find that communism has allowed members of the party and top officials in the government to get a large share of the nation's wealth and imposed a life of poverty and deprivation on the rest of the population. One of the most flagrant examples was that of the Romanian dictator, Ceausescu, who led a life emperors would be shy to contemplate while his nation suffered from starvation. The bankruptcy of communism has been made so obvious for all people to see, once the process of reform was allowed to operate. On the other hand, capitalism allows people to enjoy the fruits of their efforts but its financial system, which is based on usury, is geared to allow the rich to be better off and gives the poor little chance of improving their lot. Because of the widening gap between the rich and the poor in capitalist society, it was necessary for capitalist countries to introduce a system of social security which offers housing subsidies and health insurance to people of low income. It must be said, however, that none of these benefits could be gained without hard struggle. It is such examples that explain to us the relevance of divine guidance in our age and indeed, in every period of human society. Allah has provided us with guidance which does not shackle us so as to prevent our advancement, but keeps us on the route to progress while ensuring a respectable standard of living for every one. Moreover, it is balanced between our material and spiritual needs. It allows a disciplined and responsible sort of personal freedom which allows man's talents to flourish but gives them the right guidance which ensures that they work for the betterment of man as the creature Allah has chosen to be in charge of building life on earth. Without divine guidance, man is likely to go astray, erring in the side of spiritualism or materialism. When one of these two elements is overemphasized at the expense of the other, the result is human sufferings. You ask whether Muslims would have been worse off had they not been practicing Islam. The answer is two-fold. First, generally speaking, Muslims implement Islam only partially today. Indeed, only a small part of Islam is implemented in the lives of Muslims. Nevertheless, they would have been much worse off without such partial implementation. Secondly, if Muslims were to lead a truly Islamic life, they would indeed be much better off, not only spiritually but also materially. Allah's promise to humanity will always come true. If human beings were to implement divine guidance, Allah would grant them abundance of every good thing in life. This promise is repeated several times in the Qur'an. We need not have anything in addition to that in order to believe that the implementation of Islam will result in prosperity and happiness. Allah's promise always comes true. All prophets preached essentially the same message to their nations. Allah has willed, however, to bring His message in its fullness and to address it to all mankind. He has sent Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as His messenger to convey this message to mankind. He has guaranteed that the message will be preserved intact, free from distortion, for the rest of time. It was necessary, therefore, to make it clear to all people that the Prophet was the last messenger so that no one can claim to be a new prophet or to have any new message. Moreover, our knowledge that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was Allah's last messenger reassures us that when we follow his guidance, we are certain of our grounds. We will certainly achieve happiness and earn Allah's pleasure.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )